The Day the Kids Made God, and other urgent stories…

The end of the school year brings such urgency, for the children, the staff and myself.

For some children, some type of recall memory emerges. The project they started and forgot about long ago, sudennly, MUST be completed in the last week of school.  These  children don’t just want to complete the “forgotten” project quickly, no, suddenly there is great attention to detail and one more thing that must be added. While many I did not photograph, here are a few.

Cate’s favorite place that she loves is her livingroom. You are unable to see this, but she upholstered wood pieces and sewed all the cushions.

Then there was Emma’s (PreK) family on a picnic and Camille’s birthday cake.

Laura not only had to finish herself skating at the ice skating rink, but insisted there had to be seating.

Here is Christina dancing on the ballet bar.

In an urgency to get everyone in the studio and working, I did not get to photograph the epic Elephant Drum by Henry B. and the Dog House with Dog by Chiara. You can only imagine the detail and design that was put into these creations.

A week before Mrs. Ricks Kindergarten closing play, it was discovered that the zebra costume had disappeared. Somehow these three children worked furiously for 3 days to make a new one in time.

For me, there is much that is urgent at the end of the year. One is to tell those stories that never got told. Like the day Sara, Mani, Canon, and Chiara made God. Now I am not sure how this happened. I was watching them build together. Soon, they were excited and HAD to tell me what they had done. “This is God!”

“Really,”  I replied. “Explain it to me.”

Well this part (where the fabric hung) is God and the city and land is all around.

This is how God sees EVERYTHING, like infinity:

and this is God’s power:

Because they had built right outside Mr. Jere’s PreK  class, a few children came out to look. This was the first time the large building materials were in a shape not figurative. Airplanes, the titanic, and bridges had been built, but this was an amorphous shape.

“What is it?”  They asked.

“It’s God!”

“Oooooooh”, said Brooke.

“How?” asked Amira

Alexander said, “Well that is not God.”

I explained, “This is what is so wonderful about being an artist. You have the opportunity to show your ideas and make them. Alex, you would make God differently, and that is what is so wonderful about ideas. They can be different.”

A few minutes later , Sara, Mani, Canon and Chiara showed some of their Kindergarten friends what they made.

“WOW”, marveled Emma, “it REALLY DOES look like God.”

In that moment, my relationship with those large plastic connecting pieces took on new possibilities. It was through this small group that the use of those materials was expanded.

In the last few weeks of school I had another urgency, all those things I wanted to do, had not been done. I decided to go for it. There was a preK class that I felt I had not done enough facilitated collaborative projects and building with. Now was my chance. In small groups of 5 or 6, I told them that they had a ‘play project’. This ‘play project’ was to build a fort or house, using the big plastic pieces, fabric, clothespins. The trick to this project was for most of the tasks, you need to ask a friend for help. I tried to clothespin 2 pieces of fabric together, and showed them it just wouldn’t work. So what should I do?  I asked.

“I can help you!” Carrington said.

That’s it! But not just the fabric. It is super hard to get these big pieces to connect. Most everything you do today, you will need a friend to help.

I watched as they began. All separate.

“Ask for help”, I urged.

So they would shout out, “Can someone help me?” and no one would respond.

It was too generic. I realized they needed some modeling.

“Here’s how to get help. First call someone by their name, and then ask them to do something for you specific. Like this…”Luke, can you hold this fabric together so I can clip it together?'”

Stephen practiced, and realized he had to hold the fabric. “I’ll clip it” Luke offered.

I know this sounds elementary, but often we forget that one does not know how to help without specifics. Modeling this technique changed the dynamics of the interactions. And yes, I did have to walk through the modeling many times, but soon, I was released from this duty. Children who usually strayed from group play were drawn in. Kids who didn’t care to share, needed help. Soon amazing breakthroughs were happening.

Maya and Caroline worked  to build a swinging baby bed. However, Jasper realized that if they wanted  to leave the baby, then they needed to build something for a baby monitor. The level of play in their newly built house was inclusive and open to new ideas.

While one group built a telephone center, the next group was interested in building stairs, that then transformed into a kitchen:

Soon they decided they needed supplies. They pretended there was a delivery man. In another group, they all went to the store, but then, there was a rainstorm. They had to wrap “the baby” up and get him out of the rain:

Having neutral toys that do not tell children what to play, are necessary for creative and imaginative play. Too often corporate branding hijacks play. While I am not opposed to children’s movies as a whole, I do find TV and movie marketed toys as limiting to idea development and construction.

All this play was temporal. It was kept up for only a day in the common area. In that way, there was excitement of seeing something new developed as well as anticipation for when you got to build and create your idea.

Soon new interactive ways of playing collaboratively became explosive.

Here’s the DC High, DC Low Gym:

First you jump over the blue part like Eli. Then you go on the treadmill like Elise (and yes, she is play talking on a cell phone as she exercises!) and then you go low like Kiran:

and skate like R’Kyia

When they were all done, R’Kya said urgently ,”WAIT, we NEED a security system!!!”

“What’s that?” asked Kiran

“It’s something that goes off if someone breaks in and takes stuff.”

So, they went and got bells from the Art Studio.

While Eli put the security system in place, he turned and said. “We won’t have to use these very much.”

Another group returned to the bridge and water theme. But this time, Josie figured out how to make herself into a Mermaid. Soon many were becoming Mermaids. Josie came up to me and said in a quiet voice “Why is EVERYONE being a mermaid now?”

I smiled and said, “Josie, it’s because you came up with a really wonderful idea. Now others want to use your idea. Isn’t that great? Your ideas are spreading.” She broke out in a huge smile.

My last urgent story to share ( I do have a million more) is the wonderful engineering of the teletubby zipline brought to you by Dominic and Eli T. This invention brought lots of excitement and joy to the whole school. I am betting it will become a regular fixture of play.

With time zipping past, it was time to shut down the art studio for the year.

Urgent packing and meeting and reflecting. All we did not do, all we wanted to do, all we did, all we could have done better, the joys, the frustration and yes, before the year ends…urgent planning of intentions for next year. Plans that make your heart beat in the midst of the chaos of shutting down a school year.

Han, wandered in on one of the packing days and grabbed both my arms, he looked at me in the eyes and said,

“Ms. McLean, where are…where are…where are THE CHILDREN?”

“It’s time to pack up Han. Me and all the children will be back next year.”

PS click this link to find inspired and incredibly cool ideas!

The parts without words

khalis

The children have finished their Dream Houses. I am in awe of each child. Utterly amazed at the brilliance evident in each piece. Here are a few  to see:Slide7

Slide13

Slide13

Slide14

but the project continues…

The K classrooms’ continuous common thread has been story and the narrative. Inspired by the work of Patsy Cooper (who came to our school for a talk and will be doing a full day retreat with us next month!) and Vivien Paley as well as working with local storyteller Ariana Ross (who will be in residence in the spring with the K classes) through folk and cultural storytelling techniques, and the childrens’ stories that they bring everyday, incredible fluency and ideas have been blossoming.

With this in mind, I decided I would ask each child to create a story that included themselves and their dream house.

Funny thing, I had no idea how to support this “change” of language, from the visual sculptural representations to the oral tradition of storytelling, then to back to a visual form, representing on paper as a book.

How do ideas do this, change form? How are they born?

I know the environment must be conducive to risks, mistakes and possibility. I know that there must be trust in the process for it to happen. But these are things that don’t have verbal instructions. These things are a combination of inner and outer. (A metaphor fitting for the new Hideaway Space in the studio.)

P1050462P1050460

So, I was honest, and I told the children,”I don’t know how you each come up with ideas best, so, I have placed your dream house in front of you if that helps, I have also brought out pens and your sketchbook. Some folks like to make lists, some draw ideas or something that will happen, some write words, and some people like to just think in their heads. I will put on some music, and for at least 5 minutes, I would like you to work on your story ideas. When you are ready to tell me, just let me know.”

I was struck by the seriousness and commitment each group showed after hearing my uncertain words.

Some began drawing or writing with gusto.2boys

Some gazed into the air and then began drawing.

Some looked down at their paper, like Milo,  and then looked up and said I’m ready! Despite a blank page, his story was lush and full.

P1050412

Ruby created gestural lines, perhaps this act helped her focus, as I must doodle in order to take in a lecture or a meeting.

P1050407

Finn created drawings with arrows in between, an actual storyboard.finndraw

How fascinating to observe the small moment where something “becomes”.

I will post some of the stories at a later date.

For now, I am savoring magical parts, the parts without words that are also part of the story. The parts that somehow must be nourished for creativity to flourish and the whole story to be told.

Slide8Slide19Slide1Slide16Slide21Slide17